Big blackberry crop meets with soft prices - The Packer

Big blackberry crop meets with soft prices

07/27/2009 10:23:05 AM
Don Schrack

Members of the North American Raspberry and Blackberry Association, Pittsboro, N.C., are producing heavy blackberry volume, thanks in part to increased acreage and good weather, grower-shippers said.

The production is up dramatically in the hill country of western North Carolina, said Ervin Lineberger, president of the association and owner of Killdeer Farm, Kings Mountain, N.C.

“Our yields per acre are much bigger than other regions, such as south Georgia,” he said. “Our average field is hitting 15,000 pounds to 16,000 pounds per acre,” he said. “That equates to 3,000 flats per acre compared to 1,550 flats to 1,600 flats per acre in other growing regions.”

The large volume and what Lineberger calls mediocre demand has depressed prices, but he expects prices to strengthen as the season progresses.

Most of the Southeast will continue to harvest until about mid-August, Lineberger said, but the hill country will continue to produce blackberries into September.

The association, known until a name change last year as the North American Bramble Growers Association, will soon unveil a new logo, said Debby Wechsler, executive secretary. Also new for the association is the planned location of the organization’s annual conference. The gathering is scheduled for Feb. 25-27 in Monterey, Calif., Wechsler said.

“I think it will be the first time we’ve held the conference on the West Coast,” she said.

While the blackberries are a major crop in the Southeast, the region is not a mayor player in the raspberry industry, Lineberger said. The fruit is not grown in the coastal plains and only a limited amount of raspberry acreage is planted in the hill country, he said.

“Most of the fresh raspberries for the balance of summer will come from California,” Lineberger said.

Berry packaging in the Southeast is evolving. Club stores and some retailers are demanding 18-ounce clamshells and 12 ounce clamshells in addition to pints and half-pints, Lineberger said. As recently as five years ago, he said, the berries shipped only in half-pints.

Few Southeast retailers are employing endcap berry patch displays that have become common in the West, Lineberger said.

“We don’t have the availability of berries as they do in California,” he said. “We have blacks at times, we have raspberries at times, and we have strawberries at times.”

The growth in blackberry acreage in western North Carolina, Lineberger said, is driven, in part by major grower-shippers headquartered outside of the state. Among them, he said, is SunnyRidge Farm Inc., Winter Haven, Fla. Blackberries are but one commodity to carry the SunnyRidge Farm label, however.

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